History 246 Reading Guide

Discussion:  Black Women, Work, and the Family

  • Jacqueline Jones, Labor of Love, Labor of Sorrow:  Black Women, Work and the Family from Slavery to the Present (orig published 1986; read the second edition, 2010).  Read the Preface, Introduction, Chapters 1-5, pp. xiii-162; optional Chapter 9. 267-298.


  • Jones organizes her book chronologically rather than topically.  Why did she make that choice?  What conceptual frameworks does this emphasize and illuminate?  What continuities and what changes does she describe and analyze?
  • What were the “political consequences” of the family roles and duties of African-American women, both in slavery and in freedom?  Why have black women’s work and family roles been so misinterpreted?  What did African-American women find most gratifying and most troubling about both their family and their work roles?
  • What does matriarchy mean in the context of enslaved women's lives?  What kind of authority did enslaved men have; what kind of authority did enslaved women have?
  • How can we characterize the intersection between African-American culture and women’s culture?  What did “womanhood” mean to African American women?
  • What does Jones's study present and suggest about the goals of writing the history of African American women?